AdministratorNovember 22, 2020 at 7:23 pm
It feels a little strange to be doing a running race report after so long. I say “race” it wasn’t really a race, it was a virtual event, but having missed my Autumn “A” race due to illness (yes after months of lockdown and an almost total absence of races (or illness) my Autumn race (C2C) went ahead without me on the start line as I had a stinking (non-covid) cough and cold). To say I was disappointed was an understatement. So it was perfect that this cropped up to test my distance legs after such a long break from ultra races.
As a general rule I don’t really do virtual events, but I love the “escape from” format, and had a fab time doing Escape From Great Briatain last year, I’d like to do Escape from Meriden, but as of yet it hasn’t fitted neatly enough into my race Calender to have a bash. So with training going well and Richard from Beyond Marathon announcing the event in lieu of the new lockdown cancelled EFM I instantly started looking at maps.
The aim of the event is to get as far from home as the crow flies in 24 hours with the added twist that however far you get you must also make it back home within that same 24 hours. I duly entered, booked a day off work and felt quietly cheerful as the weather forecast looked fairly promising (something that changed significantly in the last couple of days before the off).
In more normal times I’d have headed directly north to glasgow (I live in a little town called Brampton directly East of Carlisle, just off Hadrians Wall), there is a cycle route that is reasonably flat, fast going and most importantly straight, but the lockdown differences between Scotland and England meant travelling over the border would be at best frowned upon and as it turned out from my finish day actively not allowed. Going West would mean running out of dry land very quickly, and anything heading in any variation of south would involve huge quantities of elevation gain which would yield a lovely, but highly inefficient route and limit the distance I’d get so it very quickly came down to East or East. With Hadrians wall being the only obvious straight line route to Newcastle that didn’t involve risking getting squished by a lorry on the A69.
I ummed and errred a lot about picking my start time, eventually plumping for a morning start to make good use of the limited daylight early on, figuring that the dark would have less impact on the pace on the return when I’d potentially be moving much slower anyway. I set myself a strict turnaround time of maximum 11 hours and that was that – plan made.
As the week to the big day progressed the weather forecast for the Friday evening Saturday morning looked progressively worse, going from v breezy with light intermittant rain to strong 30-40 mph winds and heavy rain. I tried not to stress too much about it – in the Pennines the forecast from even the most reliable of sources doesn’t necessarily match what actually happens. My start day was booked, as was my day off work, so I packed the waterproofs and crossed my fingers.
Living more or less opposite the police station in Brampton it seemed appropriate to use the front steps of the station as my start and finish point. So after a leisurely breakfast I set off at a very civilised at 9.30AM. I was travelling fairly light with a spare baselayer and waterproof jacket, sandwiches and snacks and 2 x softflasks (if you know where to look along the Hadrians Wall path there are a few fast flowing sources of fresh water and I’d pass a few garages at the Newcastle end of the run). I’d left Ian with a loosely organised pile of stuff (including food, spare shoes/socks, heavier weight waterproofs and spare torches batteries and bits and pieces in case my feet needed patching up later in the run). We had a fairly flexible plan for me to text him every 3 hours or so with an update of where I was and if I needed anything and he would come find me and re-stock me now and then. A real departure from our usual military precision resupply planning.
I had a steady and fairly unremarkable first 10 miles, along the lanes to Lanercost priory, then up to Banks on Hadrians Wall and along to Birdoswald roman fort. Then along the wall path to Gilsland, then down the road to Greenhead, where the tougher terrain would start. If I had been really focussed on getting as far as I possibly could, I would have plotted the route along the old military road that runs from Greenhead to Newcastle in an almost directly straight line, but I didn’t fancy running all road, I wanted to enjoy myself and test my legs out on similar terrain to an event I have lined up in January. I was also wary of running along that road in daylight while it was busy as the traffic fair shifts along there and there isn’t a lot of room.
From Greenhead the route crosses sloppy fields to Walltown Quarry and I headed up a path parrallel to the wall to try and keep my feet dry a little longer before cutting across to the wall path just past Walltown crags, keeping my feet dry was a futile quest though, and the next few miles were a real bogfest, I obviously didn’t do my laces up tightly enough as I ended up having to go fishing in a bog to retrieve one of my shoes, you’d think by now I’d know better than that.
I had to employ bovine evasion tactics around Cawfields. These days I’m fairly relaxed about cows, though I do have a healthy respect for them, particularly if there are youngsters about, but this year there have been a couple of locally high profile cases of cows trampling walkers along the wall path so I was particularly aware of them. I had a game of ‘grand mothers footsteps’ with a small herd after showing a leisurely interest a couple started to follow me, I slowed to a walk then gradually moved off the wall path closer to the nearest fence as the group gained in size ambling along behind me and getting slowly closer. Everytime I stopped and turned around, they stopped and gazed at me in that dozy cowlike way until they lost interest and started to amble off, then I’d move again and they would resume their interest and follow and gain a few more in number. I eventually reached the fence but there was no easy way over it and the situation didn’t yet warrant kamikaze fence vaulting tactics, just having the potential escape route there was reassuring. Following the fence meant a fair bit of a detour as the cows trotted alongside me needing the occasional gentle nudge to back off a bit as they got increasingly inquisitive, but I eventually got to the ladder stile at the other end of their land and I wasn’t sorry to see the back of them. I saw plenty of other cows along my route but none of them showed any interest in me whatsoever.
Once I was clear of my bovine encounter I texted an update to Ian on my progress and crackd on. I was a little surprised at the lack of walkers on the wall path as it was a fine still day if a little dull and grey and there was no sign of the high winds forecast for later. As I dropped down to Steel Rig at 18 miles Ian was waiting and I topped up the food supplies having already munched my way through a couple of ham sandwiches a sausage roll and some jelly babies. I had forgotten to mention when I texted that I was low on liquids and I hadnt put any water in my pile of resupply items, I was fairly sure Ian would spot that but he hadn’t either so I was going to need my local knowledge of water sources.
Time and miles were passing swiftly and I was soon past Sycamore Gap and Crag Lough (where I do the majority of my open water swimming) and on my way to Bousteads, where there are probably the largest remaining ruins off the wall and the remains of a decent sized fort. This is where the Pennine way path and the Hadrians wall path split into their separate ways.
The wall path then gradually converges with the military road and the rest of the journey to Newcastle was parallell to the military road , on the sections where it was really boggy I hopped onto the road for a few miles just alternating the grass and tarmac until I got to Chollerford. I wasn’t expecting to see Ian for a while as he had said that he wouldn’t come back out until Molly was back from school.
The miles passed quickly and uneventfully, the old repeater station, Vallum and the long descent past Walwick Hall, the impressive Chesters stables and Roman Fort to Chollerford to cross the North Tyne River.
The climb back out of Chollerford was steep and darkness started to fall so I used the climb to dig out the head torch and eat. I guessed it wouldn’t be too long before Ian reappeared, I was chugging along nicely though, alternating between sections on the road and some on the wall path that ran parallel. Ian duly appeared around an hour after dark and I grabbed the opportunity to get rid of my wet shoes and socks and don road shoes as the rest of my journey into Newcastle was going to be mostly tarmac.
The next few miles were really quite dull, but pleasant running as from St Oswalds all the way to Newcastle is slightly down hill and I was beginning to pick up a bit of a healthy tail wind. It began to play on my mind that I had the height gain and that head wind to contend with on my way back and I began to start second guessing my 11 hour turn around time. My route was plotted all the way to the A19 through Newcastle as literally just past there marked 50 miles as the crow flies. That was my optimistic target, but would be around 56 actual miles covered on the ground, and I also knew that when you actually run a route that long you usually cover a mile or so over and above the plotted distance so I knew it was unlikely I’d make it that far, particularly given the early terrain and the hillage involved.
I crossed the A69 and headed into Heddon on the Wall and spotted Molly in the distance, They were parked up in a garage and I had the luxury of a cup of coffee waiting for me. I’d covered 43 miles at this point but was still in good shape. We discussed ongoing support and I sent the crew home for the night, there seemed little to gain from them following me into Newcastle and finding where I was would get tricky beyond there as even I didn’t really know where I was going other than following the line on my watch and heading for Wallsend. So we hid a bottle of coke under a cone on the forecourt for me to collect on the way back, I stashed an extra bottle of water in my pack and we said our good nights, with me promising to text occasionally and Ian saying he would leave his phone on in case I needed an early extraction.
The descent continued as I left Heddon and headed through Throckly then down a bridle path before popping out onto cycle route 72 and onto the main road running parallell to the river Tyne. It was bizarrely and eerily quiet, I couldn’t help thinking about that old advert the “where is everyboooody” one from a few years ago (no idea what it was for though so that was an advertising fail). I was running along the A road that links all the main bridges across the Tyne and when I came to roundabouts I didn’t even have to use the pedestrian crossings or the underpasses, cars were infrequent and I had to Keep checking what the actual time was, 7-8 o’clock on a Friday night and there was not a soul about, a reminder of the strange times we’re in. As I approached 48 miles on my feet it was only just before 8PM and I still had another hour of planned running to do, but the wind was noticeably picking up behind me and I still had that climb out of Newcastle playing on my mind, my mile splits were still popping up in the 10’s and 11’s with the odd 12 when I walked up a small rise or had a short walk break. It was decision time, turn early or push on for 11 hours and gamble on the toll the weather and the hillage would take on my return journey?
I passed 50 miles and continued to ten and a half hours but the wind was noticeably gusting along from behind by then and that really made my decision to turn round early and start the race for home. I expected that would be, psychologically the toughest point as the enormity of what you’ve still got left to do is very obvious, but I still felt good and I thought I had plenty of time in the bank to play with, so I was fairly cheerful. I retraced my steps, realising that it was going to be a long battle with the wind all the way back, then suddenly as I headed back into the suburbs I realised I didn’t recognise the streets and I looked at my watch and realised I’d missed the turn up the bridle path back to Throckly, I’d overshot by quite a way so I decided to just take the next left turn and try and wend my way back towards the west until I came back onto my route. I tried one road to the left that hit a dead end, then I trotted through a housing estate but came to another dead end at some fields but could see lights that indicated the road I thought I needed to head for so I decided to take the chance and cut through the field.
It was a ploughed field that ended abruptly at a gate with what looked like another empty field beyond. I clambered over a barbed wire fence and cautiusly crawled under what looked like an electric fence not taking any chances on touching it in case it was switched on. It soon became apparent I wasn’t alone in the field as I could hear the thudding of hooves and 3 very highly strung and skittish looking horses were heading straight at me. In my experience even the most placid and calm of horses can be transformed into flighty beasts when the wind picks up so I did my best impression of the horse whisperer and stood my ground and muttered placating “whoaaah, steady steady steady” as I sidled across the field with them cantering off then turning and charging back towards me before skidding to a halt and repeating the process. I’m fairly confident with horses having had horses in my younger days so I wasn’t particularly disturbed by them, but you can bet if they had been cows I’d probably have broken land speed records getting across that field.
I managed to get out of the field and fairly quickly back onto my route, battling against the wind and trying not to think about the long journey left ahead of me. I was looking forward to the bottle of coke and it’s caffeine to give me a boost and once I’d picked it up I had a decent walk break as I drank and I took the opportunity to change my head torch batteries and get some gloves on as the temperature was starting to drop. I crossed back over the A69 and settled into a joggy walk pattern bent into the head wind which seemed to just keep getting stronger. I knew I would get some respite on the flat at St Oswalds where I had met Ian on the way out.
A police car passed, slowing down as it did so, then around 5 minutes later it passed more slowly in the other direction, then again from behind, and I knew it was inevitable that it was going to come back and that I was going to be asked what I was doing trotting along in the middle of nowhere in the dark on my own in the middle of the night. I wasn’t wrong and it soon reappeared rolling to a stop not far ahead. The window rolled down as I came along side and the inevitable question “what are you doing out here” I’d formed a half dozen answers in my head already but I guess I’m just inherently honest and the words “I’m just running home” popped out, closely followed by “it’s nice and quiet at this time of night”. I prayed not to be asked where home was and was fairly relieved after a long pause just to hear “ok well you be careful then” before the window was wound back up and off they went. Is it just me who feels instantly like I’m doing something wrong when a police officer asks me a question??
Not long after they disappeared a hint of drizzle started to be felt in the headwind, I stopped and got my waterproof jacket on and kept pressing forward arriving back at Chollerford at around 1 AM giving me around 8 hours to make it back home, roughly 30 miles away. The wind and my horse detour was taking it’s toll on the average pace but I was still pretty confident it was safely doable.
As I made the climb out of Chollerford the heavens opened and I had full on wind driven skin stinging horizontal hail battering into my face for the next couple of miles. My safety margin on the time front felt like it was being slowly nibbled away at. The hail steadied back off into horizontal rain, but the wind was energy sapping hard going to work against and at times the air was blue as I let off steam yealling at it to “please go away” (insert any expletive you like – I probably used them all at some point) and no one would have heard me over the wind even if thet had been nearby. I made the decision that my return journey was going to stick to the military road as the prospect of being up on the wall path in those conditions wan’t even slightly appealing.
As I approached 70 miles and the old repeater station at roughly 3AM there appeared the very, very welcome sight of Ian – I cannot put into words how happy I was to see him, I was soaked to the bone and starting to get cold so the prospect of getting into my warm winter waterproofs cheered me up beyond belief. I climbed into the car and stripped off all but undies, nicked Ians jumber off him to go under the waterproofs, and got wrapped up again. I sat in the car for around 25 minutes warming up and having a cup of coffee, I felt like I had gone from having a comfortale length of time to finish to being under pressure – time to get moving.
I hopped back out and pressed on feeling both warmer and much dryer, but the miles passed stubbornly slowly in a cycle of jog, walk swear out loud at the wind, eat and repeat, my head started on the inevitable maths – did I have time to make it back how many miles, how much time – anyone who’s tried to do time/distance maths towards the end of a long run will undoubtably agree, you can do the same sum 10 times and come up with 10 different answers and none of them will be right.
My next goal was making it back to walltown Crags where I would text Ian and so he could come out and meet me at Gilsland. I knew figuratively Gilsland signalled the start of the home straight as it was just inside the last 10 miles.
Just after Walltown I hit the sloppy fields again and after going through the gate there are a few limestone flags then you hit the grass for a really steep descent, this had turned into a bit of a stream in the rain and I jogged a few paces into the descent before thinking briefly “oh sh@t – road shoes” and almost in synchrony my feet disappeared from under me and I sledged down the hill on my butt, my waterproofs making the perfect gliding surface.
When I regained my feet I tippy toed down the rest of the descent until I hit the track back across to Gilsland from Thirlwall Castle, the wind was finally starting to ease a little and the rain was slowing down. Ian was waiting for me at Gilsland with some more words of encouragement and for the first time in a few hours I was finally thinking I could do it.
I headed across the section from Gilsland to Birdoswald with a renewed spring in my step as it started to get light and I knew I had it in the bag, with time to spare. As I approached Banks I spotted the unmistakeable figure of Ian trotting towards me to keep me company on the final 4 miles.
It was lovely to have the company for the final miles and Molly popped up with around a mile and a half to go to join for the last bit – it was great to share the end of the run with them because as ever they played a huge part in keeping me going – without the support I wouldn’t be able to turn my stupid ideas into reality. The last couple of miles were obviously slow, I felt like I was practically sprinting, but Molly could power walk faster than I was running. I have never been so happy to see Brampton Police Station – I could have kissed the wall……..
So I made it home with 39 minutes to spare and covered nearly 101 miles – I’ve no idea yet what that works out to as the crow flies, but happy enough with it. It’s a great confidence booster for January and I really enjoyed it even if the early hours of Saturday were v definitely type 2 fun. Massive appreciation for the support crew and thanks to Beyond Marathon for another fab event. Even more thanks to Ian for producing a cooked breakfast and wine (wine for breakfast is perfectly acceptable if you haven’t been to bed right?) While I soaked in the bath 💕
MemberNovember 22, 2020 at 9:46 pm
Wow….not much stops me from I’m a celebrity get me out of here 😁 but your write up did. You had me on the edge of my sofa Sharnie, them cows put the ####s up me and I was not there. That must have sent the HR up a tad 😲 then the horses but the police 🤣 funny how you just know they were going to stop you?what would you have said if they offered you a lift home? 😱 Can imagine you being the topic of conversation for them.. if only the knew the really story? 👍
As soon as I saw the 100 miles my first thought was omg the weather has been horendous, know not much stops you and you have ran in some challenging ultras but always have the knowledge that someone is out there running that race with you, Marshalls or CP but none of that for you on this one. Which makes it even more incredible, good on MR S and Molly, they are your support crew god’s.. turning up when you didn’t expect him is so lovely (peace of mind for him to I bet?) My hubby would just stay in bed lol..
One mistake in the dark in not great condition is brilliant, does the watch map automatically pick up if you miss turning? Like in car sat nav or will it stick to the route you should be on?
Enjoyed the whole write up, takes time to do and it’s always good to go through your journey, huge congratulations Sharnie.. Solo ultra on your own is something to be highly proud off.. 💪👍 X
MemberNovember 22, 2020 at 9:48 pm
Oh and great photos, hope you get some reward or bling to show for your hard work 😀
MemberNovember 22, 2020 at 10:08 pm
I started reading this with a mood the kind of “let’s see what this most-fantastic-of-runners has been up to…” and after a couple of minutes I was biting my nails and shouting WTF!!!! What an adventure!!!! Cow evasion, shoe-fishing, chased by horses, wind & rain & hail and INTERROGATED by the police (even if they just nodded smiling at me, I’d feel at least as guilty as if I’d broken into the Louvre museum, stolen the original Mona Liza and was carrying it under my armpit!… ). Wow, Sharnie, you ARE amazing! Huge well done and a zillion high-fives to the bestest ever Spriggs support-crew!
AdministratorNovember 23, 2020 at 7:12 pm
WOOHOO – What a superb write up as always and a a cracking run!
Think you planned that route perfectly with the straight line out n back (sort of lol) it wouldn’t be an ultra is you didn’t make a wrong turn lol.
Eeekkk to the bum slide – glad you didn’t hurt yourself 🙂
WELL DONE You on a superb run and a huge confidence boost ahead of January
MemberNovember 24, 2020 at 7:46 am
I knew this would be a fantastic read and absolutely not disappointed! “just running home officer its only 50 miles away” you would have been locked up for sure ! Cow “befriending” and bog snorkling nothing new there altho sliding downhill in your waterproofs is maybe a first Another amazing achievement under your belt and wondering if Januarys adventure is going to be a rerun of A of A
AdministratorNovember 24, 2020 at 2:37 pm
Not the Arc this year mc, elected for something a little closer to home in the shape of the new Lady Anne Way which goes from Skipton to Penrith.
MemberNovember 24, 2020 at 10:36 pm
Great write up of a fabulous achievement, Sharnie. Your mental stamina must be immense to keep going through driving wind and rain in the middle of the night. The hours of darkness must seem interminable at this time of year. My HR would have been going through the roof during that bovine standoff… But you always come back for more.
MemberNovember 25, 2020 at 1:55 pm
What an epic story!
I’m not that far from Meriden and have always wondered about giving it ago before realising the distances involved!
Huge achievement and sounds like a fantastic adventure. Great pics too
MemberNovember 25, 2020 at 3:12 pm
Wow. Total respect. Well done you and great photos
MemberNovember 25, 2020 at 6:57 pm
As usual you never disappoint with your event write ups they’re always a fascinating read and a real insight into what’s involved in ultra running. Think that sort of distance and route is tough going in an actual event but having the grit to do it for a virtual event shows a different strength altogether! Hats off to you again Sharnie, another epic run nailed 👏 👏👏🏃♀️🥇🏆
MemberDecember 4, 2020 at 12:25 pm
Sharnie missed this.
That is a great distance covered. Love the write up it’s a great read. Think I’m with you on cows, they can be unpredictable so I think caution is the best way. Chuckled at your law encounter just wish they had asked you where home was think they would of been quite surprised with the answer. Hope the waterproofs cleaned up after your sledging
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